Tag Archives: YA FIC

Last Night I Sang to the Monster

last night i sang to the monsterI picked up this book for a controversial lit course last term. It was on a VOYA booklist called, “booklist sure to raise eyebrows” and so I figured that it would be a good fit for my class.

18 year old Zach is an alcoholic in rehab, but he can’t remember why. Nor does he want to remember, remembering is scary and it hurts too bad to go back to the time before all this.

Zach believes that when people are born God writes things down on their hearts, on his own heart Zach believes God wrote sad. He spends a lot of time alone at rehab,  smoking cigarettes and keeping to himself, not interacting in group, and avoiding telling his story.

Eventually Zach gets a roommate, Rafael, and things slowly begin to change for him. Rafael is 50 year old alcoholic, another sad guy, and Zach is annoyed that his counselor assigned him a roommate. He doesn’t see what’s so bad about being alone. Sometimes it’s safer to be alone. Eventually he doesn’t seem to mind Rafael too much, he’s quite like Zach and they are able to enjoy a companionable silence as well as deeper conversation. Rafael is trying to stay sober, one day at a time, but Zach is less sure.

Not long after Rafael moves in the two are assigned another roommate: Sharkey. Sharkey is loud, he takes up space, and fills in all of the silence that Zach and Rafael have created in their room. He’s a perfect fit though, an unlikely strong member of their trio.

I was so moved by this book. I think that it will speak to anyone who has been affected by alcoholism, whether through a family member or a friend. It definitely will give readers a safe place to talk about what it is like living with or even being friends with an alcoholic.

I loved Last Night I Sang to the Monster way more than I anticipated I would. Saenz is an excellent writer and has a way of really getting into the heart of his characters and making them stick with the reader. He writes young men very well– giving them a full range of emotions, a refreshing break from the traditional sort of 2-dimensional male characters one often sees in YA-Fic.

Young Zach is a very real character and his process of self growth and realization was really beautiful, and often painful, to watch. This book is going to be a hit with young men and young women alike because Saenz is such a great writer that his work will draw even someone who doesn’t personally identify with the characters into the book.

This a great book for this year’s motto: keep reading! stay uncomfortable!

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I’ve seen this title coming through the library for a while and I’ve avoided it. I’m almost too embarrassed to tell you why, now that I’m neck deep in it and totally crazy about it. 
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Okay, with the truthiness now. The cover annoyed me. I don’t like that mask that the chica has on, and yes I understand what the mask is supposed to represent, but the mask is bad. Who did the art work on that one? Seriously? Es no bueno.

Otherwise though, great story. Extra super compelling. I love a punky kind of leading lady and a goth best friend. Hilarious duo those two, with really excellent dialogue.

The writing about the cities, especially Prague, was also excellent. I definitely felt a lot of wanderlust while reading this book, Taylor does a very good job of putting you right in the middle of a city (even one you’ve not yet visited).

There are only a couple of nagging problems with this story. I am always annoyed with angels. Sorry angel people, I know you love your angel fiction, but I think it’s dumb. Unless it’s in Supernatural, then maybe we can talk about it. I just don’t get it! Why are angels sexy now? Ugh. I’m so old I guess that we’ve run through the regular gambit of supernatural creatures and have to move onto celestial ones. Frankly the chimera were much more interesting, except…

UGH. Okay. I recently read this book, Revealing Eden. Have you read it? It’s not great. Anyhow, maybe I’m just feeling hyper-sensitive to this kind of thing right now because of the blatant racism in RE, but what is the deal with the bigotry in Daughter? Why does “high human” even have to be a thing? If I were a beast I would think that human forms would be less desirable – especially if my mortal enemy looked like a human with wings? So what’s the deal? It stands to reason that deer head would be much preferable to one that looked like the dudes I have spent my whole life trying to wipe off the face of the other-earth. Bah. I don’t know wtfbbq, but it’s something that really bugged me.

*sigh*

Okay. Aside from those couple of faults, this is a really fun read. The ‘verse that Taylor has created is a really excellent one and the mythos involved therein is really well thought out and has few holes (except for what is mentioned above). So if you’re like me and have been putting this title off because the cover annoyed you get thee to the library to check it out, dig in and enjoy!

It’s still 2013, baby! Keep reading and stay uncomfortable!

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

And now for something completely different!

I listened to Fallen Angels recently, in part because I did not think that I would be able to force myself to read it. I just don’t really like books about wars… well real war anyway.

This book is told from the view point of a young solider,Fallen Angels Perry, who enlisted in the Army after he realized that he would not be able to afford to continue his education. Perry is shipped to Vietnam, despite an injury from playing ball, where due to the delay in his papers arriving he is placed into a combat unit. The story follows Perry and his fellow soliders along as they begin to realize that the glory of war isn’t all that glorious.

What was good about this book is that is gave a ground level look at the War in Vietnam, as someone sort of in between gen-x and gen-y I have always known intellectually that the Vietnam War was horrendous, but I don’t feel like I ever received a proper schooling in its intricacies.  More than just being a look at Vietnam from the group up, it is a young African American man’s look at the war in Vietnam, with all of the sociological, economic, and racial tensions that were (and perhaps still are) prevalent in 1973 urban America.

What was not great, for me, was that this was a book about a topic I’m not terrifically interested in (please don’t tell anyone I studied political science with). I would recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction, war, or urban america. I think that it would especially appeal to people who like to play violent video games.

Stay uncomfortable, keep reading.

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

This was a hard book for me to read. I feel sad just writing about it. Alice is a teenage girl who was kidnapped by Ray when she was about 10 years old. He snatched her from a school trip and kept her as a play thing for the next five years.

Alice is growing up though, beginning to look like a young lady instead of a little girl, despite her restricted diet and the pills Ray gives her to keep her from menstruating. He wants a new victim and he wants Alice to find and train her. Alice wants out even if that means sacrificing another child. She begins spending time at a near by playground, looking for her replacement.What follows is gripping, gut wrenching, and utterly surprising.

Living Dead Girl

This is a hard book for me to recommend. I don’t know who will like it. It’s not really a book you like, frankly. It’s a book that comes from a very dark place, and when you read it you go there too. This book may help readers who have suffered abuse, but it is so raw and visceral that it may also serve as a trigger.

That said, I still think it’s valuable. This book can be used to open a discussion on any of the following topics: kidnapping, abuse, sex, and rape. Talking with your readers and allowing them to ask questions and experience, through this book, Alice’s fear, may protect them in the future or help heal the past.

Stay uncomfortable, keep reading.

Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith

marbury lensMarbury Lens was another one of those books that totally reflects my penchant for reading in themes. I was on a mondo-grosso, fairly creepy kick when I read this series a couple weeks ago. Both books in 3 days. I thought they were excellent.

Here’s the skinny: Jack is 16, he lives with his grandparents, and his best friend in the whole world is Conner, a typical seeming teenage athlete (arrogant, sex crazed, etc). After Jack gets drunk at a weekend party he wanders away from the fray and falls asleep on a park bench. Still drunk, he is woken up by a doctor who wants to help him. The man ends up kidnapping and assaulting Jack, and  what’s worse is that no one is looking for him: Jack’s grandparents think he’s with Conner and Conner thinks he’s blowing off steam.

Jack manages to escape the man, and does his best at recovering from the trauma. He and Connor are headed to England to check out a boys school they’re considering attending the following Fall. While Jack is tooling around London waiting for Connor to show up he meets Henry Hewitt in a bar. Henry gives Jack a pair of strange glasses and when he puts them on he’s transported to the strange and terrifying alter-verse, Marbury.

Though the trips to Marbury are terrifying and leave him sick and disoriented in this verse, Jackpassenger can’t stop putting on the glasses. Like a junkie looking for his next fix, Jack becomes completely obsessed with Marbury and has an increasingly difficult time hiding his addiction from Connor. Eventually Jack and Connor make their way to Marbury together and what follows is a faced paced, dark and frightening adventure through the bowels of hell and toward redemption. Can Jack and Connor keep it together in the real world as they face unspeakable danger in Marbury? Can they find salvation after all they have done and everything they have faced?

This series is going to be a thrill ride for anyone who enjoys the dark and edgy, dystopian, or adventure stories. As I mentioned above, these books are intense, violent and gory. I do not recommend these books to any readers who are sensitive to these issues.

Keep reading! Stay uncomfortable!

I Hunt Killers (Jasper Dent #1)

I hunt killers books cover I guess I’m in a creepy phase right now. Some of my colleagues were talking about books they didn’t like on the YALSA listerv and this was one of the titles that came up. I really didn’t have any interest in it before, but after several people agreed it was super creepy and gross I had already purchased five copies of it. Just kidding, I only have the one.

Guess what? It’s super creepy and gross! I loved it though and pre-ordered that sequel. Jasper Dent is the only child of the super serial killer Billy Dent. His father safely behind bars Jasper, Jazz, is trying to live the normal life of any 17-year-old boy. Trouble is that his dad so supremely messed with his head that Jazz is constantly having to remind himself to act like a human being, rather than the perfect sociopath his dad raised him up to be.

Trouble is brewing in Jazz’s little town of Lobo’s Nod, there’s a new killer on the loose. Jazz is frantically trying to get the local police department to listen to his insights regarding the case, but even though he is a super smart dude with an insider’s view into the world of sociopathy, he’s still a kid in the eyes of the law… a kid with a past that would make anyone wary. Jasper is caught between his own knowledge of the mindset of a killer, his burning need to crack the case, and the sometimes crushing worry that he’s not any better than his father.

Jazz’s struggle with his own morals and humanity make him an excellent character. He is so very aware of not just everyone around him, but of himself and his own actions, I think that his behaviors and analytical awareness will be familiar to anyone who has grown up in a destructive family environment and is working toward healing.

I Hunt Killers is a super fast paced and compelling novel for readers who enjoy the morbid or gruesome. Be warned that there are some very detailed descriptions of disembowelment and such, so this novel may not be for you if you’ve got a weak stomach!

Hunger

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I got in a thing for a while where I was reading a lot of a certain type of book. I read a number of books about meth for a couple weeks, which was just charming, and then moved onto eating disorders. I’m totally not gruesome at all. Anyway Hunger, of course, was part  of the eating disorder stint.

Of the novels that I’ve read lately that feature anorexia or bulimia Hunger has got to be one of the better ones. Lisbeth Lewis, the main character, has been listening to her “thin voice” for sometime, and unsurprisingly it is causing her relationships to deteriorate. Things are rocky with her boyfriend, her parents, and she’s not even speaking with her best friend. She’s terrifically depressed and attempts to take her own life.

After a mysterious stranger hands hands her the scales of Famine she must travel to world depriving populations and crops of the sustenance to live. None of it sits right with Lisbeth though, and as she discovers her ability to help strangers and maintain the balance she also must look within herself and find the will to survive in the real world.

Hunger is a fast read that deals with the troubles that teens face in an amusing and poignant manner. Perfect for readers who don’t want to spend a dog’s age getting into a novel, this slim volume provides just the right amount of escape from the daily grind.

Clockwork Prince

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Oooohweeeee, I love these books. I have previously tried to read The Immortal Instruments series, but could barely make it through the first chapter. The Infernal Devices on the other hand, I find completely engrossing and delightful.

Clockwork Prince is the second in the series (see my review of Clockwork Angel here, in the assignment portion of this blog). Tessa Gray has taken up residence at the London Institute, a training facility and school for Shadowhunters (elite fighters who face down evil and protect humans or–mundanes, from things that go bump in the night). The London Institute is in trouble though, its director Charlotte Branwell, and her bumbling but genius husband Henry, are under intense scrutiny as their methods and results are being challenged by the stuffy and bullheaded Benedict Lightwood. In order to prove the Clave (the Institute’s governing body) that the Branwell’s are fit to run the Institute they are tasked with finding the mysterious and illusive Magister, who wants Tessa for his bride, and has previously frustrated all attempts at capture. Oh yeah, and they’ve got two weeks to recover him, nbd right?

Meanwhile Will is meeting in secret with the warlock Mangus Bane and visiting opium dens in-between bouts of maddening flirtation with Tessa. Jem has focused his affections upon Tessa and, in effort to fool the head of the Yorkshire Institute into thinking she is his fiance, has given her his family ring which he doesn’t want back after the ruse is up. Tessa is caught in a trap between Jem’s sweetness and light and Will’s brooding intensity, and feels her affections pull at her in unimaginable and sometimes unseemly ways.

This book is a fun read and is ideal for anyone who enjoyed the first book and will appeal to readers who are intrigued by the steampunk genre, historical or victorian fiction, and urban fantasy. Go on then, get to it! Read!

The Bermudez Triangle

The Bermudez Triangle book cover

**This review contains spoilers**

Originally I had hoped to include The Bermudez Triangle in the original set of fifty reviews, but I couldn’t quite pull it off. Here is the thing about Maureen Johnson’s book, I really wanted to like it. It’s about a trio of teenage girls, best friends since forever, and everything is copacetic until the overachiever of the bunch heads off to Stanford for the summer to attend a leadership camp and the other two are stuck at home and sort of fall into a romance with one another. I like that, I like books with strong female leads doing strong female lead type things.

I did not include this book in the original fifty though, because I couldn’t get through it. The first half of the book is so hard to read, it just drags on and on and on and I was continuously putting it down because nothing happened. Once things started to happen I was more interested, but ultimately bummed out because the characters are kind of assholes.

Nina, the overachiever, returns home from Stanford totally stuck on some guy who lives across the country, with no phone and no money, but who she plans on continuing to “date” from 3000 miles away until they can be reunited in the Fall of their freshman year at university. This is so unrealistic to me. This girl Nina is supposed to be some kind of genius, president of the student council and blah blah blah. It bothers me that someone so smart can lose herself in some guy so completely. I felt like she needed to listen to the entire back catalog of Savage Love and get a grip.

Her best friends aren’t much better. Mel and Avery stay home all summer and work at some generic bar and grill together with another kid in their class, Parker (a dude). The girls start fooling around and decide to be girlfriends, but they are stuck deep in the closet, which is whatever, but um, so dull. PLUS, Avery isn’t even sure she’s a lesbian, which is extra annoying because she and Mel, who knows she’s gay, don’t ever talk about their relationship. The whole thing is like an example of how to do everything wrong in a relationship. Once again I felt like I needed to set those girls down with Dan Savage and get their heads straight (heh).

Of course, everything wraps up nicely in the end, the girls repair their friendship just in time for Avery and Nina to start making their big future plans, but no word on what poor sweet Mel is going to do after her psycho mom flips out on her when she’s accidentally outed. Nina once again lets down a generation of smart, strong women when she messes with the head of sweet Parker and then drops him like hot coals in favor of the dumb dumb from Oregon who cheated on her three months into their long distance thing (no surprise there, frankly). No worries though! Another girl wanders past Parker just in the nick of time and he immediately begins to follow after her like a lost puppy. Because affections are totally interchangeable!

So yeah. This one was a disappointment. It could have been a really thoughtful piece about being a gay teen in highschool, but instead just furthered a bunch of backward type thinking about relationships and young people and did not really impress me. I think I got the recommendation for this book off of the 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader list put out by Bitch Magazine, and I still can’t figure out why it’s on the list. Maybe for the same reason I thought it would be good? Because it’s a coming of age story about a teen lesbian? Speaking of, Mel is pretty much the only redeeming character in this book, the only one who stays true to herself and doesn’t screw anyone else over in the process. So, I guess there is that at least.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

a tree grows in brooklyn cover art

Smith, B. (1943). A tree grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper Collins. Audiobook.

Reader’s Annotation

A classic coming of age story at the turn of the century in Brooklyn. This is the story of Francie Nolan, a girl made up of all of the good and bad parts of her parents, Katie and Johnny Nolan, plus something that is all her own, that which makes her Francie. The smooth pace and rhythm of this novel transport the reader into Brooklyn’s immigrant slums, with all of the joy, sorrow and hope that first and second generation immigrants carried with them as they made their way in their new home.

Plot Summary

This story is broken into five parts, telling the story of the Rommely-Nolan family, with Francie Nolan, who is 11 at the start of the novel, as the main protagonist. Francie and her brother, Neely, collect scraps and bits of metal from the neighborhood in exchange for some pennies from the junk man, have the pennies go into the tin can bank in the closet and the other half are divided between the two children.

Francie and Neely’s parents are Johnny and Katie Nolan. Johnny is of Irish heritage and Katie German, and Francie is incredibly proud of the fact that her parents are some of the few that were born in the county. Johnny makes a living as a singing-waiter and Katie cleans the building that they live in exchange for rent, the family is incredibly poor and the neighbors whisper that Johnny is a good for nothing and a drunk, forcing his beautiful wife to work so hard to support his habit.

In the second part of the novel we are acquainted with the story of Katie and Johnny’s courtship. When Katie was 17 and Johnny was 19 Katie worked in a factory with her best friend whose beau was Johnny. After a disastrous double-date in which Katie’s date was a slobbering oaf, Katie decides to steal Johnny away from her friend and makes a habit of getting out of work just a few minutes early to talk to Johnny alone before her friend Hildy can meet him. Eventually Johnny tells Hildy that Katie is his girl now and that they should go their separate ways. Hildy is heart broken, but four months later Katie and Johnny are married and little Francie soon follows. Neely is born a mere fourteen months after his sister, and Johnny turns to the bottle, feeling so young and trapped with his wife and two children.

Throughout the novel it is clear that Francie worships her father, making his discent into alcoholism especially painful to witness. The two share a special bond though, as demonstrated by his effort to get Francie into a better elementary school. When Francie start school she goes to the neighborhood school near her flat, but it’s a miserable place packed full of children, where the teachers play favorites and Francie has to share a desk in the back corner of the room. On a walk one day she discovered a beautiful school in an area of Brooklyn she’s never been to before. She takes her father to the school and he tells Francie that they can pick out a nice house to take down the street address of so that she can transfer to the new school, but that she must work very hard and always be a good girl so that she never gets any mail sent home and draws attention to their deceit.

As Francie grows older she becomes more and more aware of her father’s problem with alcohol. She keep a journal in which she refers to “papa coming home sick” for a several month strand, later sharing that Katie found her journal and made her cross out drunk and replace with it with sick. This is the begin of the end of Francie’s innocence. Awareness of her father’s drunkenness, combined with a terrifying assault in the stairwell of her flat usher Frannie firmly into adulthood. It is not too much longer before Francie and Neely have to obtain work to help Katie Nolan make ends meet. The family is so poor that one of the children has to work through the school year and Francie has to give up her dream of high school in order to help support the family.

Despite the rough times the Nolan’s have faced throughout, the book ends on a happy note. True love is found and dreams come true. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of one immigrant family that worked themselves near to death, saw more misfortune and hungry nights than anyone ought to, but never stopped trying to work toward a better future, which is exactly what they got. 

Critical Evaluation

It was really hard for me to get into this novel. I’m ashamed, because A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is everyone’s favorite book, it’s a fine example of The Great American Novel and anyone who cares anything about literature ought to love it. The thing about that is that I know it’s good, I appreciate it for all that it’s done for the genre and love the Betty Smith, a woman, was able to publish this book, which handles some very difficult topics, in 1943. In fact that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published by a woman in 1943 to critical acclaim kind of blows my mind. All that said though, I do not think I could have made it through this book if I hadn’t been listening to it on audio book. There is something about the cadence of the language in the novel that I find incredibly boring, so much so that it was even really hard for me to write a plot summary, because even though a ton of stuff happened and some of it was even laugh out loud funny, I just couldn’t bear to go through all that dull stuff all over again. So beware! I’m a huge fan of classic literature, I loved Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chrome Yellow and The House of Mirth, but I could barely make it through this beloved story.

Author Information

Betty Smith was a playwright and novelist from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the location of her first novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Smith was born to German immigrant parents and only educated through elementary school. She was married, but left her husband and raised their two children. When her kids were old enough Smith returned to school herself and studied at the University of Michigan where she began her career as a playwright. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was first published in 1943 to wild, country-wide, acclaim.

Genre

Young Adult Fiction, Coming of Age, Immigrant Families, Historical Fiction, New York

Curriculum Ties

Grades 11 and 12 literary response and analysis curriculum:

Analyze recognized works of American literature representing a variety of genres and traditions

Booktalk Ideas

How does A Tree Grows in Brooklyn compare to other great American novels? What are some of the similarities between Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, and Francie?

Reading Level/Interest Age 

13+

Challenge Issues

This novel is American classic. The life that the Nolan’s live is hard one, and it’s undeniable that Johnny Nolan’s demise is from the result of alcoholism, nor could you argue that Sissy didn’t work in factory making sex toys (or condoms, I’m not sure which). That doesn’t take away from this novel’s value though, this is a rare picture of what life looked like for so many of the Americans who immigrated through Ellis Island, and it’s value as a piece of American history far outweighs any arguements one may against it.

Reason for inclusion

I included this novel because it’s an important part of American heritage.

References

Smith, Betty (Wehner) (1904-1972). Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature. George B. Perkins, Barbara Perkins, and Phillip Leininger. Vol. 1. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. 986. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.

Betty (Wehner) Smith. Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 6 Dec. 2012.